A handful of Swedish theaters have begun rating movies for sexism, based on the Bechdel Test. Clearly, this is a Big Government Nanny State Making Men Apologize For Being Men. (More)

Yesterday The Guardian reported that four theaters in Sweden have begun rating movies for sexism, using the Bechdel Test, a crude but at least quantifiable standard that requires simply: (1) two named female characters; (2) who talk to each other; (3) about something other than a man. Here’s a quick video on the test:

Even the test’s creator, Alison Bechdel, recognizes its limits. Films can pass this test yet treat women terribly, or fail the test yet have complex female characters that portray women as fully human. Still, it’s at least quantifiable, and only 56% of the 4522 movies in the Bechdel Movie Database meet all three criteria. Almost 11% meet none of the three, and a quarter of movies meet only one: either they have named female characters who never talk to each other, or unnamed females who talk to each other only about men.

And let’s face it, the Bechdel Test isn’t a high bar. This scene would suffice:

AMANDA: [Approaches coffee machine.] Hi Barb. How are the kids?

BARB: Hey Amanda. They’re okay. Cathy brought home a cold, but she’s not sharing.

AMANDA: [Smiles.] How thoughtful.

BARB: [Laughs.] Not really. She just wants all the chicken soup for herself.

Amanda and Barb are hardly fully-developed characters. But they have names, and they talk to each other about something other than a man. And that doesn’t happen in almost half of the movies we see:

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. “For some people it has been an eye-opener,” said Tejle.

“Another example of ridiculous nanny state intervention”

For others, the idea seems to be a mind-closer. Consider this reader comment at The Guardian:

At the risk of being lambasted I would like to start the discussion by saying that this is another example of ridiculous nanny state intervention. If people do not like the way genders are portrayed in films, then they are free to not watch them. Ridiculous pro-female stances like this do not help improve society’s image of the genders. Men are now afraid to be men, they have to constantly apologise for being male. Women do not know where the boundaries lie and worthy causes for female emancipation are buried under the constant barrage of [un?]worthy crap like this.

Let’s deconstruct that, shall we?

First, the Swedish government has nothing to do with this, although the Swedish Film Institute have said they support the idea. The decision to rate the movies has been made by four privately-owned movie theaters. How that translates to “nanny state intervention” is left for the reader to decrypt.

Second, movie-goers often won’t know how a movie portrays women until they watch it. The Bechdel rating, while imperfect, provides at least some clue.

Third, why, exactly, should a movie theater telling audiences whether a film passes this most basic test make men “afraid to be men” or “constantly apologise for being male?”

And finally, why should men get to decide “where the boundaries are” for women?

“An irrelevant dialogue between 2 unnecessary female characters”

Then there’s this gem:

The ‘test’ is pure bunk. Why would anybody wish to see an irrelevant dialogue between 2 unnecessary female characters for 1 minute that does not include reference to the main character, which in a large number of cases is male? It’s poor story telling, flabbly editing and completely irrelevant to most sane people.

Because female characters are “unnecessary” and anything they say to each other that isn’t about men is “irrelevant.” Okay then.

“the Commissars”

And no outpouring of male privilege would be complete without the Red Scare:

Russian arts went down the drain as soon as the Commissars started decreeing what was good on the basis of depicting a desired social reality. This isn’t going to be good for art or for women.

I think once again we have here demonstrated the preachy tendencies of what are otherwise the very admirable Scandinavian societies.

Yep. Movie theaters letting audiences know whether two named female characters talk to each other about something other than men … is the first step on the slippery slope to Siberian gulags.

Or maybe, just maybe, some men should ask themselves why they resent the idea that women might ever talk about something other than … men….


Happy Thursday!